Patrick Cava, Ramsay Professor of Chemistry Emeritus, was
born on 13 February 1926 in Brooklyn, NY of second-generation
Italian parents. As a child, he fell in love with chemistry,
and with Jerrold Meinwald (later a Professor of Chemistry at
Cornell University) several chemical reactions were tried at
home. As a boy, Michael contracted poliomyelitis, and made a
partial recovery: he walked until his late seventies slowly but
surely, with an ambling gait.
Michael earned a B.S. degree in
chemistry at Harvard in 1943. At the University of Michigan,
he worked for Prof. Werner E. Bachmann, who died prematurely,
so the visiting André S. Dreiding helped Michael Cava
earn his Ph.D. degree in 1951. From 1951 to 1953 Michael was
a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard with the great Professor Robert
B. Woodward: they co-authored a publication describing the total
synthesis of strychnine.
Michael is fluent in French and German, and has a prodigious
memory of the salient results of Beilstein’s reviews of synthetic organic chemistry. In 1951
he married Esther Laden of Duluth, Minnesota; their son, John M., was born in
1953, and is now architect in Portland, Oregon. Esther Cava earned a doctorate
in psychology and a law degree; she became a respected expert on adolescent psychology.
Michael started his academic career
at Ohio State University (1953-1965), where he rose through the
ranks of Assistant, Associate, then full Professor. He moved to
Wayne State University (1965-1969), to the University of Pennsylvania
(1969-1985) and finally to the University of Alabama (Robert Ramsey
Professor of Chemistry, 1985-2004, Emeritus Professor 2004-present).
He was a Visiting Professor at the Universities of Illinois (1957),
and California at Santa Barbara (1968). He was a Sloan Fellow (1958-1962),
spent research leaves in Switzerland (1959), Manaus, Brazil (1965),
and in France (1979). He was Raman Visiting Professor at the University
of Madras, India (1973), and a Guggenheim Fellow (1984-1985) at
the Universities of Paris and California at Santa Barbara.
Cava’s range of synthetic organic chemistry was encyclopedic,
from natural products to organic metals and conducting polymers,
from rare marine alkaloids to novel natural products he extracted
from plant samples collected in many trips to Central and South
America. One of his early interests was in preparing stable cyclobutadiene
His senior research associate for four decades, Dr.
M. V. Lakshmikantham of Madras, India kindled in Michael a deep
interest in the chemistry of organo-S, Se, and Te compounds. One
compound, bis-ethylenedithio-tetrathiafulvalene (ET), gave a semiconducting
complex with tetracyano-quinodimethan; other scientists later discovered
thirty-odd superconducting salts of ET with various anions. Michael
was interested in applications of conducting polymers, nonlinear
optics, and finally unimolecular rectifiers (with R. M. Metzger).
Michael published 300 papers before coming to Tuscaloosa, and a
lifetime total of 455 papers, plus a popular organic chemistry
textbook (Allinger, Cava, De Jongh, Johnson, Lebel, and Stevens).
Michael supervised 80-odd Ph.D. dissertations; his students have
later served on the faculties of the Universities of Rochester
and Chicago, to name but two. Michael mentored more than 100 post-doctoral
research associates from many countries.
to Tuscaloosa many eminent organic chemists, who gladly came to
see him. In April 2001 Prof. Jin Cha (now at Wayne State) organized
a 75th Birthday symposium to honor Michael: the world of organic
chemistry assembled in Tuscaloosa. Michael made many friends, but
probably not a single enemy.
His legacy on synthetic organic chemistry
is subtle but very deep. The dynamic duo of Michael and Lakshmi
worked as long as possible, until ill health stopped their work
in 2004. Esther Cava died of lung cancer in 1995. In Dec 1998
Michael married Armelle Guinard Laden of St. Germain-en-Laye near
Paris (who had been married to Esther’s
late brother). For several years Armelle continued the tradition
of Esther, and invited many people to Mike’s house. A grand-daughter,
Sophie Rose, was born in 2006 to John M. Cava and Kayla. Prof. Cava
passed away in September 2010.
Lectureship was set up by Michael and John Cava with unexpended
research funds that the ever-careful Michael had not spent, and
the receipts of a sale of unused chemicals to the Aldrich Chemical